Malaysians ready to honor Hindu god of war, fertility

Thu Jan 13, 2011 1:39am EST
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By Niluksi Koswanage

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - To give thanks to a powerful god for blessing him with a longed-for daughter, Sharma Muthu will skewer his tongue with a spear for Malaysia's largest Hindu festival.

The government official will be one of many thousands who will go into a trance and pierce their bodies with hooks and spears to honor Lord Murugan, the god of war and fertility, at his limestone cave temple in the Malaysian capital next Thursday.

"I have five sons and I always wanted a daughter. No medicine could have helped me in this so I turned to the god and put my faith in him. Now I must repay this miracle," Muthu said after he offered prayers at the Batu Caves shrine ahead of the festival.

Malaysians are increasingly seeking spiritual aid from an assortment of gods and faith healers to solve personal problems in this mostly-Muslim but multi-religious Southeast Asia nation.

The Thaipusam festival, which originated in the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and was introduced to Malaysia in the 19th century by immigrant Indian estate workers, reflects a growing faith in the Hindu god's power to bless devotees with children and cure serious illnesses.

Thaipusam is no longer widely celebrated in India but in Malaysia the festival has gone beyond the ethnic Indian community that is less than a tenth of the country's 28 million people.

In 2008, the government had to declare it a public holiday to give devotees time off to perform the thanksgiving rituals.

In preparation for the festival, Muthu fasts for 48 days and abstains from sex. On the day itself, he will shave his head, smear sandalwood all over his body and listen to priests chanting mantras until he falls into a trance, when his tongue will be pierced with the 18 cm (7 inch) spear.   Continued...